Ever since Adam and Eve felt a sudden rush of shame and reached for their fig leaves, one question has plagued humankind daily: What should we wear? It’s a hard question—so hard, in fact, that it’s spawned the rise of an entire celebrity-styling industry for people who need help answering it. But most of us don’t have access to someone to pick and choose our outfits. Or, uh, most of us didn't. Karla Welch, the stylist behind Justin Bieber and well-dressed women like Tracee Ellis Ross and Megan Rapinoe, wants to make that luxury available to the masses.
Welch is setting out to make getting personally styled as easy as finding your soul mate or hailing a cab in 2019—which is to say, via app. Launched late last week, the Wishi app—a name, Welch explained over e-mail, inspired by “the countless amount of people who have said to me, I wish I had a stylist, I wish I knew what to wear, I wish I wasn’t stressed about what to wear”—makes a stylist as easy to get as an order of pad Thai.
Personal styling services like Wishi are growing in numbers. The AI-powered Stitch Fix is now valued as a $1.4 billion company. Companies like Bombfell, Trunk Club, and Threadbeast are all eager to send boxes packed with clothes they hope you’ll like. I’ve tried, or talked to guys who have tried, almost all these services, with varying degrees of success. I tested one out for several months last year and consistently found it lacking, both in terms of the clothes it was able to offer and in its human touch. Many styling services are all too eager to rev up an algorithm and pin you to a four-dimensional chart meant to unlock style nirvana. But personal style, which can be fickle and fluid, is a tricky thing to map onto some data model. Which is where Welch comes in: she has made a name for herself by dressing her clients in outfits that assuredly won’t be worn by anyone else—outfits that are unique to the person she is dressing. Welch’s client Sarah Paulson once made Rihanna jealous on a red carpet, which is about the highest honor that exists.
Personally speaking, Welch’s app could not have come at a better time: it launched in the raw days following the release of the Uncut Gems trailer, when I was at risk of throwing everything I owned into a cleansing fire so that I could set about properly emulating 2019’s most fashionable film. So I decided to sign up. The app comes with two options: the $40 “Wishi Mini,” in which a stylist provides two head-to-toe looks, or the $90 “Wishi Major,” meant for folks in need of a complete closet rebuild. I chose the Mini.
The styling services began with a fashion Rorschach test of sorts: a collage of pictures depicting different modes of dress, and options for responses that ranged from ”Hell no!” to “Love it!”. “Edgy style” meant Kurt Cobain, while “Rugged style” was brought to life through Tom Hardy in a great big sherpa-lined coat and a smoldering David Beckham wearing a tonal brown-on-brown getup. I responded “Love it!” to “Elegant” style, and to another board—labeled “Hipster”—featuring Tyler, the Creator in a barn coat. Then I checked off brands I like from a list that stretched from H&M to Celine.
Wishi employs a team of stylists; using my answers, the app paired me with three, along with the percentage strength of our match, and asked me to swipe, Tinder-style, to make my pick. I chose a stylist named Zuajeiliy—a 90% match!—which prompted another round of questions, this time about my budget and interest in specific items and categories. Finally, I was asked to provide my style icons, and sent over Ralph Lauren/the Polo Bear, Marc Jacobs, and some GQ favorites like Timothée Chalamet, Ryan Gosling, and John Mayer. And, of course, Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems.
My Wishi stylist—a real person, but one armed with all the data I’d provided—used all of that information to make a mood board, and sent it over. The app’s most useful feature is its chatbox, which enabled me to send real-time responses to my stylist’s prompts. The board was a little meh, I wrote back: lots of basics and not enough color. “Awesome will incorporate the color, I’m also loving color this Fall,” Zuajeiliy wrote. “It’s time.”
Two days after sending the mood board, Zuajeiliy came back with a new collage, this time jammed with stuff that I liked—a surprising development given my experience with past apps. There was a leather blazer that immediately rocketed to the top of my shopping list—thanks mostly to its unbelievably reasonable price of $179. Zuajeiliy also sent along a pair of wacky drop crotch pants that I would definitely wear.
Stylists on Wishi make their cut through the styling fee alone, so, as Welch wrote, “There is no pressure to buy, the stylists don’t make commissions on sales!” Plus, one of Wishi’s advantages is that it isn’t limited to brand partners, instead sourcing clothes from the entire e-commerce world. You’re trading out the convenience of receiving a box of physical stuff, sure, but you can access a much wider range of clothing in exchange. This, too, most accurately reflects how personal styling works: without any guardrails around the brands offered/ Plus, all the clothes are handpicked by stylists themselves, without the guiding Ouija board-like presence of AI, according to Welch. Looking at the success of a company like Stitchfix alone, it’s hard to deny that data can be useful as a styling tool, but I’d argue that for those further ahead on the fashion curve, the task requires a forward-looking human.
What most impressed me about Wishi, though, wasn’t the way it came up with references, or made smart suggestions—it was that the recommendations included brands I wasn’t familiar with, and even stores I hadn’t clicked into before. And I really like shopping! For that reason alone, the appeal is apparent. My calendar may not be loaded up with fancy banquets to attend or red carpets to walk, but having access to a person whose literal job is to pick out clothing for me is undeniably appealing. If the end goal is finding users clothes they want to buy and wear, then Wishi is a success, at least so far. I really want that leather jacket.
Originally Appeared on GQ